Long layover leads to damaged vertebrae epiphany

by Viv Sade

I have two deep-rooted fears – flying and earthquakes. Well okay, three, if you count the approaching Zombie Apocalypse.

So when I fly to quake-prone San Francisco, as I did last week, it’s Fear-squared.

I’ve tried everything from meeting with the pilot to meditation to hypnosis to taking psychoactive drugs with a Miller Lite chaser. I prefer the latter.

So, a few times annually – directly related to the number of times I take flight – I take a couple of Xanax.

Once I visited a holistic doctor and told him I needed some Xanax to fly. He said he did not do that and suggested I drink a cup of chamomile tea before boarding the plane.

Are you #$%*ing kidding me?!

The only way chamomile tea will calm me is if I mix it with Xanax and snort it, I told him.

But this time the problem was not the flights, but the layover.

I realized when I booked the trip that my return flight was the red-eye special, but it couldn’t be helped. What I did not realize until that day was that I left San Francisco at 6 p.m., arrived in Chicago at 12:45 a.m. and then caught a flight to Fort Wayne at 2:40 a.m., or so I thought. Which was bad enough …

… but it was 2:40 p.m.

Holy shit. A 14-hour layover.

Are you #$%*ing kidding me?!

I was homeless. I was living in O’Hare Airport. I was Tom Hanks in “The Terminal.”

First of all, airport seats are not designed for sleeping. Hell, they’re not even designed for sitting.

Second of all, I – excluding the third shift custodial workers – was the ONLY person  in the entire American Airlines terminal from 1 a.m. until almost 5 a.m.

I found a large screen TV in one waiting area and positioned myself underneath it, lifting my feet when necessary so the janitors could vacuum.

I watched the news repeat itself six times and fell asleep with my head resting on my purse at an unnatural 180 degree angle. I was startled awake two hours later by the sound of my neck splintering in half and my head hitting the steel arm of the plastic chair.

Only ten more hours to go.

Turns out the airport begins to come alive at 4:45 a.m. The nearby McDonald’s workers were hustling to open at 5 and a few passengers were straggling in to catch an early flight.

I gathered my carry-on suitcase, my purse and my giant “I (heart) San Francisco” bag, balanced everything precariously on top of the carry-on and rolled over to McDonald’s, baglady-like.

I ordered a “senior coffee,” which is a medium size and only 52 cents in Fort Wayne. That, by the way, was when I first realized I was old – when I  swallowed my pride at age 50 – the senior qualifying age – and chose frugality over vanity. It’s a defining moment in a woman’s life.

The very nice clerk told me they did not offer a senior coffee.

I ordered a small, instead. It was $2.25.

Are you #$%*ing kidding me?!

I was too tired to fight. Plus, my neck was broken.

Nine hours and 45 minutes to go.

The moment I saw a clerk at the airline counter, I went in for the kill. I explained my predicament and asked if there was an earlier flight she could book for me.

No problem … could get me on an outgoing flight at 10 a.m., but it would cost me $150 to make the change.

Are you #$%*ing kidding me?!

Forget it. I’d show her.

And I did. For the next 9 1/2 hours.

In addition to Xanax, the other thing I digest only a few times a year is the famous Chicago caramel and cheese popcorn mix.

I bought a giant bag of the stuff and positioned myself on a chair in the main portion of the terminal to people-watch.

About 90 minutes later, after my fingers and hands had turned into sticky orange gloves, and I had observed every freakish person flying through O’Hare airport, I decided I had to get some sleep.

I was feeling sick. It was either sleep-deprivation or the Company’s Coming Special bag of sweet, cheesy popcorn I had just devoured for breakfast.

After washing my hands, I went in search of sleeping quarters.

Food mall – too noisy.

Book store – nice, but no chairs.

Main terminal – too risky. Airport security might mistake me for a vagrant and subject me to a full-body scan, find out I’m carrying contraband – 4 ounces of shampoo, a full ounce over the limit – and throw me in Federal Airport Prison.

Gate waiting areas – very crowded, but wait … what is that little alcove at the end of the terminal next to the last gate?

I walked to the end of Gate H-15 where a solid wall of windows and chairs were tucked back in a corner away from the crowd.


I settled in, positioned my broken neck and used my carry-on for a footstool. Not bad. The windows faced the east, and the sun felt delightful.

Watching the steady stream of planes in the sky taking off and landing within seconds of one another had a calming effect on me.

“Why, with all of these planes successfully landing and taking off every second at just one airport in the world, the odds of my plane crashing are almost zero …”

It appeared that I did not need Xanax after all. All I needed was to sit and watch the planes land and take off before my flight while drinking a $2.25 small cup of coffee.

I soon fell into a deep sleep. I woke up to find a little boy staring at the line of drool falling from my open mouth.

I smiled at him and looked at my watch.

Only five hours until I was no longer homeless.

Things were looking up.

4 thoughts on “Long layover leads to damaged vertebrae epiphany

  1. Viv, you are so freakin” funny! I’m glad we are WPCI buddies. I get entertained every meeting I attend and you are there. You just keep the world laughing, and that ain’t bad.

  2. Are you #$%*ing kidding me?!
    Viv, you should have called me. I could have driven from southern Indiana to Chicago, driven you to ‘Busco and been back in the wilderness in less than 14 hours!!
    And you know I would have been more entertaining company than you had. But probably not as entertaining column material.

  3. The rich (i.e., those frequent flyers who have accumulated so many miles that they can use the first class lounge) are different than you and me.

    Once a senior marketing guy who flew millions of miles took pity on me and took me as his guest to Delta’s ‘Sky Club.’

    St. Peter (disguised as a drop-dead gorgeous female attendant) greeted us at the pearly gates. She greeted my companion, Mr. G, by name.

    Free drinks served up by a smiling bartender, free snacks. Real satellite TV, not a news loop. Huge cushy chairs. Couches. Today’s newspapers. Current magazines. Wi-Fi, printers, even fax machines for the quaint.

    And showers. Really. You can take a shower.

    All too soon the drop-dead gorgeous attendant came over and said, “Mr. G, your flight is boarding.”

    Paradise was not lost yet. We departed to the gate, to the preferred boarding line and to our seats in First. Sunk in our large seats with a yet another free drink and a snack of warm mixed nuts, hoi polli glared at us with undisguised contempt and envy as they shuffled to their cattle class seats.

    The rich are different than you and me. Especially in an airport.

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